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"I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6) Christ told his followers during his brief but powerful ministry on earth. It was a timely and needed message since a few hundred years before His birth many people had stopped living according to God’s commandments. Christ brought light back into the world when He proclaimed His gospel just as he had to the prophets of old like Abraham, Isaac, and Moses. He chose twelve men to be His apostles—including Peter, James and John—and laid His hands on their heads to give them authority called the priesthood to perform baptisms, govern His church, and spread His word throughout the world.
In spite of His great influence and many miracles, He was ultimately rejected and crucified. After his death, His brave and faithful apostles carried on without Him, baptizing new members, and starting various congregations.
Regardless of the valiant efforts of Christ’s apostles and their faithful followers, the original church that Christ restored began to fade away. Members faced severe persecution and all but one of the apostles were martyred. This is a period called the Great Apostasy, when there was a "falling away" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-3) from the gospel Christ organized. The apostolic authority to bestow priesthood keys and to receive revelation for the Church was lost along with many precious teachings. Errors about His teachings crept into the church resulting in conflicting opinions and lost truths. This period is what we call the Great Apostasy.
Without authority or divine direction, Christianity struggled to survive with conflicting opinions on even the most basic teachings of the gospel. Without priesthood authority or the full gospel, people had to rely on human wisdom to interpret the scriptures, principles and ordinances. Many false ideas were taught as truth, and much of what we know about the true character and nature of God the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost was lost. Essential doctrines like faith, repentance, baptism, and the gift of the Holy Ghost became distorted and important doctrines were lost entirely.
Centuries later, inspired people, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, recognized that practices and doctrines had been changed or lost and tried to reform the churches to which they belonged. But without the authority of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ, His gospel and Church could not be returned to their original form.
If the boy next door told us he was called by God to restore His true church on earth, would we believe him? Probably not. Neither did many people in Nazareth believe their neighbor, Jesus Christ the carpenter, was the Messiah.
After centuries of spiritual confusion people were in desperate need of Jesus Christ’s original truths. When God selected a 14-year-old boy in 1820 as His messenger, most people refused to listen. Joseph Smith lived in the United States, which was the only country to proclaim religious freedom at the time. His family was deeply religious and constantly sought the truth.
Joseph had to decide which of the many Christian denominations to join. After careful study, Joseph Smith still felt confused as to which Christian church he should join. He later wrote, "So great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was . . . to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong. . . . In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?" (Joseph Smith—History 1:8, 10).
He turned to the Bible for guidance. He read, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5). With simple faith he decided to do just that. In the spring of 1820 he went to a nearby grove of trees and knelt in prayer. He described his experience: "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. . . When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" (Joseph Smith—History 1:16–17). In his vision God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared. The Savior told Joseph not to join any of the churches. Although many good people at that time believed in Christ and tried to understand and teach His gospel, they didn’t have the fullness of truth or the authority to baptize and perform other saving ordinances. This vision marked the beginning of the Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ to the earth, which God authorized to be established 10-years later by a wiser, heaven-tutored Joseph Smith, once again allowing everyone to receive the joy and blessings that come from living it.
What does having divine authority really mean? The authority to act in the name of God is called the priesthood. Some mistakenly think it gives one the power to tell other people what to do. What it actually means is that a person can act in God’s name in behalf of His church—like when we give someone power of attorney so they can act in their behalf.
Prior to the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith received priesthood authority at the hands of John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John who received that same "power and authority" from Jesus Christ Himself (Luke 9:1). These men appeared as angels and bestowed the priesthood upon Joseph Smith. The prophet today, Thomas S. Monson, is the authorized successor to Joseph Smith. He and the Church’s other Apostles trace their priesthood authority back to Jesus Christ in an unbroken chain of ordinations.
The Book of Mormon testifies that Jesus Christ did indeed live on the earth and still lives today as our divine Savior. It’s a second witness affirming the existence of Jesus Christ and the truth of the Bible. The account of its origin is as miraculous as the other events surrounding the restoration of the Church.
In 1823 Joseph Smith was visited by a heavenly messenger named Moroni just as angels often appeared to Apostles in the New Testament. Moroni told Joseph about a record of the ancient inhabitants of the American continent that was buried in a nearby hill. He said it contained the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and was written on thin metal sheets of gold. Joseph translated the book into English. The book was named the Book of Mormon after Mormon, the ancient prophet who compiled it.
Translated and written in the same scriptural style of the Holy Bible, the Book of Mormon tells us about the struggles of the righteous people of that time who were trying to live God’s commandments. Just as sometimes happens today, they were often made fun of and persecuted for their beliefs. A particularly inspiring section of the book recounts Christ’s visit to the American continent soon after His resurrection. He invited the people to feel the wound marks in his hands, feet and side. He blessed and healed them, performed miracles, and gave twelve men the same authority as His twelve apostles whose works are recorded in the Bible. The effect of His visit was so profound that for nearly 170 years the people lived in peace and righteousness.
The central truth of the restored church is that God is our Heavenly Father and we are his spirit children. He knows us personally and loves us more than we can comprehend. He wants us to be successful in this life and return to live with Him. Our life on earth is part of His plan for us to gain a body, learn, grow and find joy. Sometimes life is hard, lonely or frightening, but Heavenly Father is always concerned about you. In answer to your prayers, He is ready to give you comfort, peace and guidance.
He has prepared a path for us to follow that will bless our lives. This path is necessary for us to return to Him. This will enable us to receive the fullness of the effects of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. As we do, we’ll find greater peace and joy both in this life and in the life to come.
Maybe we were raised in a happy and secure family with two loving parents. Maybe we weren’t, and growing up was tough without the love and support we longed for. Likely, as an adult we want a happy home.
Living peacefully in a family isn’t always easy, but in God’s restored church, marriage and families are believed to be the most important social unit now and in eternity. God wants us to do all we can now to prepare ourselves to live with our family forever. If we build our marriage and family around Christ’s principles including faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome fun, home can be a place of refuge, peace and immense joy.
We must not get discouraged. No matter how hard we try, our marriage and home won’t be perfect. That’s part of the growth process we’re meant to experience. God wants us to learn how to be patient and loving when our spouse, toddler or teen is acting only too human. Our job is to serve them, which in turn will help us become more like God.
He also gives us direction through his prophets who have the authority to speak and act in His name. Throughout history, brave prophets like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Peter, John the Baptist, Paul the Apostle and countless others bore fervent testimonies of Christ to help our own faith in Him grow.
When Joseph Smith was tragically martyred in Carthage, Illinois in 1844, the leadership of the restored Church was passed to Brigham Young who was the senior apostle at that time. He led the Church under Christ’s direction for the next 33 years—leading the first group of pioneers across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. He supervised the immigration of over 70,000 additional people from the U.S. and Europe, and founded over 350 settlements in the Western U.S., Canada, and Mexico.
The succession of prophets continues today with our current prophet and President of the Church, Thomas S. Monson. He is assisted by two counselors, Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf. Together, they make up the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (much like Peter, James, and John in Christ's time). Just as God led the Israelites out of slavery to a better place through His prophet Moses, He leads us into happier, more peaceful lives when we choose to follow Jesus Christ by following His living prophet. We are all invited to read or listen to the words of living prophets and consider how knowing God's will can benefit our lives.